In the Old Testament, the Nation of Israel was conquered by Assyria because of hundreds of years of unrepentant idolatry. Its neighbor to the south, Judah, fared a little better in the short run. But instead of heeding the warning of what happened to Israel, Judah doubled down on its idolatry during the reign of King Manasseh. Because it did not heed the warning of what happened to Israel, God let Judah fall into the hands of the Babylonians, and they suffered a similar fate.
America would do well to learn from this lesson. If we want to know what will happen to our country in the near future if we do not turn things around, we should look at what is happening to the nations of the world that supposedly share our values. I could list many examples, but I want to zero in on a case arising in Canada that should terrify those of us who are concerned about the state of free speech.
In 2016, Toronto hosted a “Gay Pride Parade.” A Christian activist named Bill Whatcott and several of his friends infiltrated the parade wearing green bodysuits and calling themselves the “gay cannabis zombies,” passing out flyers entitled, “We want you to practice safe sex.” However, the flyers were filled with information discussing the well-documented medical dangers of homosexuality, preaching that it was sin, and urging people to repent and accept Christ.
In America, when people tell others hard facts about homosexuality, we call it free speech. But in Canada, they call it “Wilful Promotion of Hatred,” which is a criminal offense.
But that’s exactly what happened in Canada.
Well after the event, the prosecutors in Toronto decided to indict Whatcott for "Wilful Promotion of Hatred." They sent agents to fly to the other side of the country in the province of Alberta to arrest Whatcott and bring him back to Toronto to face the charges.
Does infiltrating a parade and passing out undisputed medical information warrant a Tommy Lee Jones-style manhunt across the country? In The Fugitive, Jones led a team of U.S. Marshals to track down and capture Harrison Ford, who was convicted of murdering his wife.
One can understand that; murderers should be chased to the end of the earth. But folks like Whatcott? Come on!
To make matters worse, prosecutors weren’t asking for a fine or community service, but for 18 months in prison.
Prosecutors in Canada asked for a draconian punishment that would be shocking and unthinkable in America.
Fortunately, Whatcott was acquitted, but not by much. Justice Robert Goldstein of the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto ruled that there was “reasonable doubt” about whether Whatcott’s actions fit the legal definition of "Wilful Promotion of Hatred." Justice Goldstein reasoned that while Whatcott’s words were certainly “offensive” to many people, he never called for “violence” against homosexuals.
Thank God he caught the obvious: calling something dangerous or sinful isn’t a call to violence.
But Justice Goldstein went on to reason that Whatcott’s flyer constituted a “borderline” case and fell within a “gray area.”
Hang on…how is that even close to a “borderline” case or a “gray area?” This is black and white, not gray. It’s free speech, pure and simple!
Fortunately, Justice Goldstein reached the right result, because “gray areas” in criminal law can’t satisfy the “reasonable doubt” standard. But the fact that Whatcott’s case came down to a “borderline” call should be shocking and alarming for anyone who values free speech.
So, what’s the lesson for America?
For years, the Left has been calling for “hate speech” to be an exception to free speech. While the courts, and even liberal judges, have done well in rejecting this view, I’m concerned about what will happen when liberal lawyers of my generation and the generations following me become judges.
If we don’t hold the line on freedom of speech, then our children and grandchildren could be facing the same kind of situation that Whatcott did in Canada.
That’s something out of an Orwellian fiction rather than something that should happen in a free society.
We can avoid that fate, but only if we vigilantly guard freedom of speech and demand that our courts do the same.
Matt Clark is the President of the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty, a conservative nonprofit law firm that fights for limited government, free markets, and strong families in the courts. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected]